Ben Reilly Happens While You're Busy Making Other Plans

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Flash 3: The Caffeinated Adventures of Barry Allen

Barry Allen doesn't drink coffee.

We learn this via exposition as Barry's thoughts and a doomed plan race ahead of him. It's a seemingly trivial quirk that makes a lot of sense and *ahem* runs parallel with his attempts to master augmented cognition. And it's yet another example of how seamlessly Manapul and Buccellato blend characterization, theme and action.

Barry doesn't have time to tap into aug cog during the EMP crisis, but he does pull another trick out of his arsenal that makes for a truly stunning visual payoff. This is the stuff of summer action blockbusters, but without the SFX limitations. And it reinforces the simple truth that Barry Allen is first and foremost a problem solver. M & B are taking us on a journey with him as he learns new and innovative ways to use his powers, and it's a fun ride.

Because this is such a fun comic, M & B are liberated to take us to some really dark places without losing sight of the wonder that characterizes Barry's world. They don't shy away from desperate individuals committing evil acts, including torture, amputation, and cold-blooded murder, or from the dark underbelly of science. A group of militarized clones facing death one by one poses not just a physical but a moral threat to our hero and his worldview. In spite of that ever present danger, The Flash is the most thoroughly optimistic book on the market today.

And it's not doomed optimism in the sense of Barry Allen vs. the World. His world is as much a part of him as he is of it. Barry is the social hero, and his positivity is reflected in and returned by the people he surrounds himself with. There's a real romanticism to the supporting cast, whether it's Iris West pursuing her interview at Iron Heights in spite of the blackout, Dr. Elias driving into the desert in a 1912 Stanley Steam car, or the Central City police force taking to the streets on horses. That's the kind of white knight moment that Harvey Bullock and the GCPD just couldn't pull off, and it goes a long way toward showing why Central City is a special place in the DCU.

Flash 3 is yet another flawless comic. M & B fit in a lot of action, deepen the Mob Rule mystery, and give pretty much everyone in the supporting cast at least one character moment. So even though Barry doesn't drink coffee, I suspect Manapul and Buccellato have been hitting Starbucks pretty hard.

And seeing as how The Flash is the best comic on the stands today, here's hoping they won't be going decaf anytime soon!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Flash Comics #3 Preview: P-R-I-D-E

It occurs to me that every issue of Manapul and Buccellato's The Flash now has a mind blowing title page with the intro line:


I'm pretty sure it was there before the relaunch. But it's only since they took over that I want to get out of my seat and yell, "DAMN STRAIGHT!" every time I read that.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Why Warner Bros. Should Overcome Great Fear and Build Green Lantern Into a Franchise

I watched Green Lantern for the first time this weekend on Blu-Ray, which begs the question:

Did I see the same movie as the critics?

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Because looking at the 27% rating on rotten tomatoes, I'm increasingly convinced that my PS3 beamed me to an alternate universe where the film didn't suck. It has it share of problems, to be sure, but fortunately being a bad movie isn't one of them. But with such a disappointing box office return, the real question now is why Warner Bros. would risk building a GL franchise? And if so, how will they address the first film's shortcomings?

The first questions is the most difficult. Hollywood studios aren't renowned for taking big risks. And who can blame them for not throwing money down on underdogs when there are plenty of safer bets out there? Even if we see a sequel, it's likely to have a watered down budget that could sink the franchise in a self-fulfilling prophecy kind of way. I'd just assume they leave it alone rather than go that route. But just because I enjoy playing with other people's money, here's why I think WB should go all out the next time around.

First off, I think extenuating circumstances are a legitimate factor. GL is a good comic book movie that went up against several great ones. X:Men First Class, Thor, and Captain America were excellence. If GL had gone up against Iron Man 2, we'd be having a very different conversation. IM2 would have played Apollo Creed to GL's Rocky Balboa, winning the box office but in a lackluster way that would even the playing field for their next match-up.

It also didn't help that First Class, Thor, and Captain America made GL feel like a jack-of-all-trades. FC was all about the hero's learning curve, Thor was more epic, and Cap was more charming. Throw in the Iron Man franchise, and Tony Stark had already cornered the market on the irreverent womanizer with authority issues. Match GL up against any of this films individually and it's probably not that significant, but there's a cumulative effect when you take Summer 2011 as a whole.

I know, I know. Excuses and hind ends, everyone's got one. But keep in mind that I'm not arguing why Green Lantern failed so much as why the franchise can succeed. And I stand by my conviction that it's largely a timing issue. I'm not saying WB should aim for mediocrity and pass off a sequel when there's nothing else good out. They will definitely need to take GL to the next level in scope and quality. I just happen to think all the building blocks are there in such a way that they have more to lose by passing on GL than making a sequel.

Remember the days when Marvel was putting out consistently better comics but DC owned the live action superhero movie market? I'd argue the reverse is true these days. DC needs an answer to the steady stream of Marvel movies coming out in rapid succession: Spider-Man, Daredevil, X-Men, Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Avengers, as well as SHIELD and several other projects in development.

In other words, it's time WB realized that fan does not live on Superman and Batman alone.

But before DC can expand their live action film line, they need to build on what they've already established.I'm convinced the next Batman film should serve as an unofficial continuation of the Nolan franchise, and I say that as someone looking forward to a lighter aesthetic. Miller's Batman and Morrison's exist in the same universe, after all. I'd like them to build a continuity that could support a JLA movie, and I think it would be rewarding to see Reynolds' Hal Jordan fighting universal threats alongside Caviezel's Superman. Geoff Johns' JLA relaunch has only reinforced my desire to see it happen, and I'll hear Reynolds' voice in my head now whenever I read Hal Jordan's lines.

So on to how the WB could address the first film's shortcomings.

1. Cut Ryan Reynolds loose. No, I'm not talking about letting him go, I'm talking about letting him go wild. It's not as if Reynolds' performance in GL was restrained, but there were some moments where it felt like he was on the verge of a breakout moment only to be held back by the script or the direction. The fight in the bar parking lot comes to mind.  I loved Reynolds' delivery of the line, "Hey, guys, my face was just getting warmed up!" But the fun is cut a little short when Hal accidentally kicks their ass with his GL ring. Maybe our hero crosses the line into being a bully if he enjoys taking advantage of mortals with superpowers, but it felt like Reynolds could have kept the one liners coming. And then there's his training session with Killowog. Once again, I felt like he could have trashed Killowog some more once he mastered the ring. But the moment is cut short when Sinestro interrupts. As far as problems go, untapped potential isn't the worst. Reynolds made the film fun at every possible opportunity, so here's to giving him more.

2. Devote the next film to Sinestro's arc. The post-credits scene where Sinestro donned the yellow ring felt a little off. Why spend all that time building Sinestro up as Hal's unlikely ally only to throw it away at the end? You can--and should--get an entire movie out of Sinestro's slow turn to evil (and Hal's realization). Maybe that's what's intended. Sinestro could covertly use the yellow ring when no one's looking until he's finally discovered.

3. Embrace the film's strengths and go cosmic. Earlier I talked about elements from the GL film that made it seem like a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. But I do think GL succeeded on one level where other superhero films fell short (if they attempted it at all). Hector Hammond and Parallax were genuinely creepy, cosmic level threats. That makes GL a pretty awesome sci-fi monster mashup.

So have it, WB! Sure, you're scared, I get it. But maybe being a studio exec is a lot like being a Green Lantern. Perhaps you've been chosen not because you're fearless, but because you have the ability to overcome great fear.

And that's the kind of heroism that will have fans seeing--and you rolling--in the green.

Friday, November 4, 2011

ACTION 3: Light(er) on Action, Heavy on Atmosphere (SPOILERS)

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Action Comics 3 has generated some criticism for its lack of, well, action.

It's a criticism that only works when you compare it to the first issue, which was essentally a 40 page chase scene with very few breathers. When you take the time to break Action 3 down, there's actually a lot going on here:

1. Krypton's data network is infiltrated by Braniac and his "Terminauts" in flashback.
2. Kal-El's grandmother is seemingly killed by one of the Terminauts.
3. Kandor is shrunk just as Lara-El narrowly escapes with baby Kal in hand.
4. Inspector Blake stops by Clark's apartment to harass him for taking on The Man.
5. Clark's landlord discovers his S-shield safety blanket and deduces he's from outer space. Maybe.
6. Superman is outed as an alien by Mr. Glenmorgan.
7. Clark has gotten an offer from The Daily Planet, but remains loyal to The Star.
8. A crazy but possibly not so much homeless lady sees the ghost of a white dog watching over Clark--Krypto?
9. One of the condemned building squatters from Action Comics 1 blames Superman for losing the only home he had.
10. Clark has a mysterious informant named "Icarus" pushing him to take Glennmorgan down.
11. There's an anti-Superman rally.
12. Superman saves a girl from getting run over by a truck and the public attacks him with bottles and bricks.
13. Clark apologzies to a picture of Ma and Pa Kent for failing them.
14. Clark stops by Mr. Glennmorgan's automated train driver factory, which is then invaded by Braniac's "Terminauts."
15. John Corben goes through with the steel solider experiment, his heart explodes and he's possessed by Braniac.

So yeah, clearly nothing happens. Or as a friend of mine so aptly puts it, "This wasn't an issue featuring Clark, Lois, and Jimmy sitting around having a meaningless conversation over coffee about who might play them in a movie; this was character and plot development." Incidentally, if they did have that conversation I think it's pretty obvious: Daniel Radcliffe as Clark, Rupert Grint as Jimmy, and Emma Watson as Lois. :)

At any rate, I'm okay with the lack of a physical confrontation. This issue is all about escalation. But with the Terminauts on the loose and Metall-iac in play, I predict Actions Comics 4 will be a balls-out slugfestapalooza that would have Arnold Schwarzzenegger begging Grant to take things down a notch.

Speaking of logical extremes, "World Against Superman" takes his dual nature to a level that makes Richard Donner's films and all ten seasons of Smallville seem tame by comparison. Don't worry, everything you could love about that dynamic is very much intact. Superman is still struggling to reconcile his human and alien heritages. But this is Morrison, so even his worlds have worlds.

Which is why Action Comics 3 might be light(er) on action, but it's a triumph of atmosphere. Morrison uses every tool at his disposal to show not just how Krypton is different from Earth, but how Metropolis is different from itself. The divide isn't limited to Metropolis' industrial district and its dark underbelly, though that's appreciated. It's as if he's going out of his way to give every facet of Clark's life a distinct aesthetic.

The result is that when Clark walks by a strip club that could have been lifted straight from Miller and Mazzcchelli's Batman: Year One, it becomes something much different by contrast. Miller's strip clubs are superficial to Gotham's soul at best, like a wart on a witch's nose. Morales' seedy district, on the other hand, is more akin to the foot blisters Metropolis developed when it sprinted into the future.

For all the times he's stopped by Suicide Slum to give inspirational speeches to impoverished kids, this feels like Superman at the height of multiculturalism. When Clark walks by a prostitute on the sidewalk, he does so casually, not as a moral busybody but as someone familiar with poverty. He's an American Christ, a god walking among us, so steeped in the affairs of men that he's just as likely to pass by as walk with his fellow man, but he'll never go through you.

Morrison's Kent bridges worlds with impossible ease and unlikely difficulty. Now that Clark remembers his short life as Kal-El down to the last detail, the long dead Krypton seems a stone's throw away. But when he crosses from downtown Metropolis into a cafe stocked with middle class professionals, on the other hand, he might as well be taking a Boom Tube to get there. It's like stepping into another world.

Which brings us the other common criticism of AC3, which is that it's too compressed. I tend to agree that the narrative occassionally comes across as disjointed, but intentionally so, reaching a near feverish pitch as Clark's worlds come crashing together. Some of the most striking moments arise from abrupt transitions  that don't feel out of sequence so much as they transcend it.

Take the sequence where Clark is at the cafe with Lois and Jimmy for most of two pages. Traditionally, the cafe conversation would end with a clear verbal marker ("I'm headed off to work on that story now") and wait to change locales until the next page. Sometimes that verbal marker will appear in caption against the image of the protagonist's new location. Instead, Morrison abruptly transitions Clark from his cafe conversation to a park bench between the space of the last two panels.

This single panel consists of a homeless woman telling Clark a white ghost dog is watching over him, and covers his startled reaction. The result is that we feel Clark's disorientation in a way that we wouldn't if Morrison had followed a conventional page layout. By the time we see Clark on the following page, he's walking through downtown in the middle of a phone conversation.

Clark only appears in three panels on the next page, but there's a lot going on:

Panel 2. A smiling Superman saves a girl from an oncoming truck.
Panel 4. An angry mob attacks a hurt and confused Superman.
Panel 5. Clark apologizes to a picture of Ma and Pa Kent from his apartment, where his Superman shirt sits in a trashcan.

There are quite a few gaps to fill as readers, like when he changed to Superman, where the mob came from, and how he dealt with them before he went to his apartment and threw his costume away. As a result, the reader shares in Clark's feeling of being overwhelmed, like moving from dream to waking nightmare to crushing reality in a matter of seconds.

In terms of craft, this might be Morrison's best issue of ACTION yet. And for my money, it plays with time in the best possible way. Which is good for DC, because I felt like I got $4 of story out of twenty pages. Morrison's narrative doesn't just lack the extra page content of ACTION 1 or the backup feature coming in ACTION 4.

It transcends them. :)

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Is Kaine the Poor Man's Ben Reilly?

So as of ASM 673, it's all but confirmed that Kaine will be the new Scarlet Spider.

It's still possible that Marvel could pull something out of left field, seeing as how the Jackal is running around again. But it's doubtful that they'd go to such great efforts to establish Kaine as a major player in Spider-Island only to sideline him with a last minute reveal.

The Scarlet Spider Returns in January 2012

I'm not sure how I feel about this.

One the one hand, it feels like Kaine has been shoe-horned into the role. He's no longer degenerating, his scars are gone, and he can't see the future. Which begs the question, why not Ben? Marvel has said repeatedly that Ben's story is over, but that's a harder case to make when Kaine has just been stripped of everything recognizably Kaine to essentially become Ben Reilly 2.0.

It occurs to me that I'm being unfair, but Kaine's airport encounter with Peter leaves me concerned. Kaine claims he's there to see Aunt May off one last time before he goes on the run. Peter reminds him, "I have an Aunt May. You have a test tube." Regrettably, Kaine lets the comment pass without throwing Peter through a wall.

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"You talkin' 'bout my Test Tube Mama?!!"

Well, let me amend that. A Kaine throwdown would have derailed an otherwise excellent issue that isn't really about him. So perhaps it's regrettable from a characterization standpoint, but the issue itself probably benefits from Kaine's self-restraint.

And maybe--just maybe--he does, too. On a spiritual level, it's important for even the most tortured heroes and villains to reflect our capacity for change, however small. From a storytelling perspective, it's critical to mix things up to keep readers interested. Readers invest a lot of time and money into these characters. We want to feel as though we're going on a journey with them, not walking around in circles (even when we are).

Inevitably, what works for some doesn't for others. Controversy is better than apathy. I actually bought ASM 673 off of comixology as soon as it was available based solely on my interest in the Scarlet Spider. Sure, I could have just read spoilers online, but that seems unfair to the creators who work hard to generate interest in these stories. If you're intrigued enough to look it up, you generally ought to be willing to pay. But I digress. The upshot is that I came away very skeptical about Kaine filling the Reilly vacuum, but very impressed with ASM 673. So even if I drop Scarlet Spider after a few issues, you can put this in the win column for Marvel.

But back to my skepticism. To make a transition like this work, you have to sell the change as something organic. It's getting harder (not impossible, mind you) to pass off personality makeovers with off the wall explanations. Seasoned readers expect something more organic than a brain transplant or a yellow fear monster. Actually, scratch that last one. Geoff Johns totally pimped Hal Jordan's ride from insanity to heroism (with a nice assist from DeMatteis' Spectre run).

Johns' Green Lantern: Rebirth goes a long way toward illustrating that even the most awkward transition can work, while his Flash: Rebirth shows that even the most sensible one can fall a little flat. (For the record, Manapaul and Buccellato's The Flash is one of the best reads out there right now). I won't apologize for going into a gamechanging Kaine story with expectations, but it's fair to say that there's really no way to tell how successful Christopher Yost's take will be until it's on the page. I enjoy his animated work enough to say that if Scarlet Spider fails it won't be for lack of talent.

So why should Ben Reilly fans give the title a shot? Well, for one thing, I think our common question is a hauntingly familiar one. Because it's basically the flipside of the biggie that gets thrown my way every time I make a case for bringing Reilly back.

Isn't Ben Reilly just the poor man's Peter Parker?

When someone asks the inevitable question, I resist the urge to shout "Hell No!" and refer them to this quote from J.M. DeMatteis (the definitive Ben Reilly and Kaine writer):

"The minute I stepped inside Ben's head, it was clear that he was a very different character than Peter. A very different man. They had, at their core, the same values, the same inherent decency; but Ben's life experience had changed him drastically. He was tougher, I think; far more troubled. Quicker to anger. Less respectful of the law. His heart had been wounded so much that he had a hard shell around it. Yet, beneath that shell, aspects of the Peter Parker we knew and loved remained. That was the fun of Ben Reilly: he was Peter Parker and, at the same time he wasn't. Working on The Lost Years...was, for me, the highlight of the Clone Saga. Digging deeper into Ben's past, deepening the character of Kaine, working with the great John Romita, Jr.: what a wonderful experience. To be perfectly honest, I think Ben was, in many ways, a better character than Peter. Certainly more layered and interesting. And that's coming from a guy who thinks that Peter Parker is one of the most layered and interesting characters in the history of comics."

'Nuff Said on that. :)

Now I don't think we can apply this logic to the specifics of Kaine's new arc, because we have yet to see where Yost is going with him. Like I said, I'm still skeptical. But viewing that skepticism through the lens of Ben Reilly critics puts my doubts in perspective. It's worth remembering that fans who wouldn't give Ben Reilly a fair shot contributed to his untimely death.

Fans like me.

I enjoyed Ben Reilly during the Clone Saga but I HATED him as Peter's replacement. I was right there with the "He's not my Spider-Man!" crowd back in the day. I never wrote an angry letter or quit reading, but I practically cheered when Marvel rolled out the return of "the one, true Spider-Man." it took me years to come around to the genius of the concept, but Ben Reilly means a lot to me now.

So I'll be giving Christopher Yost a chance to sell me and I hope you will, too. It wouldn't be the first time I've been won over to an edgy character softening just a bit. Fans who didn't give Ben Reilly a shot as Spider-Man missed out on something special, and that could just as easily be true of fans who won't cut Kaine any slack as the Scarlet Spider. That's all I say for now, but check back in with me when Scarlet Spider hits stands.

And remember Marvel, Scarlet Spider's success or failure will only reinforce the necessity of Ben Reilly's return! :)

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He'll be back!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Wolverine Was Too Cool For School...Now It's Too Cool for Him!

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"You're a headmaster now, Professor Logan. Best accept the fact that you will never again seem even remotely cool to any of your students." --Charles Xavier

So I picked up my first X-Men comic in years this week only to discover that Wolverine has lost his claws, figuratively speaking. Wolverine and the X-Men 1 apparently picks up where mega-event Schism left off, with the X-Men divided into two factions: one, a school in the vein of Xavier's original vision, and the other a militant group dedicated to protecting mutant interests at all costs. And since Wolverine would be the perfect candidate to lead the militants, he's naturally been recast as Dumbledore at the mutant equivalent of Hogwart's.

Except, you know, Dumbledore actually knew what was he doing.

"We're just hoping everything goes smoothly," Wolverine tells Xavier, who's stopped by to offer his blessing.

"Yes, I'm sure it will," Xavier smirks. "Just as it always does in a school full of teenage mutants."

I'll admit I went in to this as skeptical as I was intrigued, but it's that sense of whimsy that won me over. Aaron's wit and Bachalo's energy make for a winning combination.  The issue isn't heavy on action, but it's incredibly entertaining in a sitcomish 'disaster waiting to happen' way. The premise is tried and true fun: two state inspectors determined to shut the school down won't need to look hard for reasons. The running gag is that Beast's designs make the school a death trap and everything that can go wrong does.

There's also some very weighty moments that are played for laughs, in a tragi-comic kind of way. Like when one of the students makes for a very uncomfortable moment by telling the inspectors that mutants are monsters and she'd rather be cured than taught, but she appreciates the school because she'd just assume not kill again if she can avoid it. Awk-ward!

And then there's the absurd, hyper-reality moments that are strikingly relevant. Like when Wolverine's arch-nemesis turns out to be a trust fund baby who's dedicated to destroying the school because he wants to sell Sentinels. I never thought I'd see the day when a twelve year old kid could walk on campus and tell Wolverine he's going to destroy everything he's built with such impunity, but that's why it's so effective. The ol' Canuckle head is facing problems he can't deal with by popping the third claw--teenagers!

So far, Wolverine and the X-Men strikes me as M*A*S*H meets Harry Potter. A natural born killer viewing the world the lens of schoolmaster makes for the same kind of tension as a medic viewing the war through the lens of pacifism. Throw in the fantasy wish fulfillment and hijinks you get when kids with special powers get together, and you've got something that should click with fans of all ages.

And speaking as a fan of the X-Men from the 80s and 90s, this series seems to address the primary problem I've had with the franchise lately. I like Wolverine and I like Cyclops, but I don't like what they've become when they're together. The X-Men movies made Wolverine a badass at Scott's expense. Then they added insult to injury when they overplayed the Scott/Jean/Wolverine love triangle, which shouldn't define the characters.

That's why my favorite X-cartoon is Evolution, which took the triangle off the table from the very beginning. It freed Scott and Logan up to be something more than guys in a giant pissing contest over Jean. Since Marvel is in no hurry to move away from that, at least they're doing the next best thing by giving Scott and Logan some breathing room. I hope Aaron and Gillen have the good sense to keep Logan and Scott from crossing paths for the foreseeable future.

I look forward to Wolverine's journey as headmaster. The idea seemed somehow off at first, but I'm warming up to it rather quickly. It can't be easy to move such a cherished character's story forward without losing something fundamental, but if this issue is any indication, that's precisely what they're doing. They will have to do something about his tagline, though.

Wolverine isn't the best there is at what he does anymore, but what he does is kinda nice...

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Soul Surfing with JMD and the Kids...

Psst! Comics aren't just for adults anymore. But whatever you do, don't tell the kids. I'm not quite done with my copy of Marvel Adventures Spider-Man #19...

I was watching The Big Bang Theory last night and several of the jokes revolved around Leonard meeting a hot girl in a comic book store. And it suddenly occurred to me how fast that gag is becoming irrelevant. It's not that unlikely to spot an attractive woman interested in comics these days. (I've joked with my wife that I was born ten years too soon.) But--and this is where things get really weird--you're much less likely to run into a kid looking for his weekly Spider-Man fix.

There's a lot of talk about sex and gore in comics, but that's just a sideshow. A distraction. The simple truth is we've alienated younger readers, not their parents. To paraphrase the 1992 Clinton campaign's slogan:

"It's the Storytelling, Stupid."

Let me give a recent example. My son and I were browsing comics the other day. I was thinking about getting us a subscription to ASM, so I teased the idea by asking him what he thought of this comic:

"Face, it Tiger! Boys think I'm 'icky'!"

He looked at me like I'd just suggested we frost some rainbow cupcakes while catching an episode of My Little Pony.

But just in case you need more evidence of the industry's disconnect with younger readers, look no further than the solicitation for this comic:

"'Spider-Island' PART FIVE Now the moment you've been dying to see, Tiger! Mary Jane Watson finally spiders-up! Plus a giant battle pitting brother against brother. But let's face it, you just care about that cover!"

So there you have it. Marvel half jokingly suggests that a cover ripped straight from Maxim is a selling point. And maybe they're right--but only if you exclude nine year old kids from the mix. Personally, I like it, but more as a pinup piece or a screensaver than an invitation to buy a story. So if I were going by that alone, I'd treat it exactly like an issue of Maxim. I'd admire the cover and pass right on by.

The funny thing is, the comic itself is everything a nine year old boy could want. Action, monsters, heroics. The whole nine yards. It just goes to show that the disconnect has gotten to the point where we take it for granted. When you put a 'cooties' cover on a comic with such broad appeal, that's a missed opportunity.

This week J.M. DeMatteis talked about writing a story for Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man, a title that falls under Marvel's 'all-ages' brand. "You can't write down to kids," he argues, "you have to write up." And he's absolutely right.

For one thing, kids are hard to fool. If you promise a story to a kid, you pretty much have to deliver. Adults, on the other hand? C'mon. We're the saps who go to the polls every year and vote for the guys who get us into messes and then promise to do a better job next time. And let's face it, we're easily distracted. At the lowest level, we'll take something less than a story if you throw in sex. At the highest level, we'll take something less as long as we can discern some intellectual point the author is making.

Maybe that's why I've rarely felt shortchanged by either Marvel or DC's all-ages titles. Some stories are better than others, but every one is just that: a story. If you want to learn craft, I think you're better served by looking at these done-in-ones than a super-ambitious seven year story arc that leads into the next Big Thing.

Take J.M. DeMatteis' ten page "Going Cosmic" story, which is not only an absolute blast, it's Storytelling 101. The tale doesn't kick off with Peter getting up, packing his school bag, having a Pop-Tart and kissing his Aunt May goodbye as he heads off to school. Oh, no. We get thrown into the action right away. Spider-Man is riding the Silver Surfer's board, headed straight into outer space where he's certain he'll die.

Something isn't about to happen, it already has.

So yeah, pretty much hooked from the first page. Wait, wha? Spider-Man is on the Silver Surfer's board? How did that happen? How does that even work? And how's Spider-Man going to survive? This is what Stan Lee meant when he said "Stay tuned, true believer!" :)


Don't worry, I won't spoil anything for you. Suffice to say we get a compelling mystery, a cosmic threat, an identification character that helps you see this world with the wonder of a child, several laugh-out-loud jokes, a bit of poetry and philosophy thrown in, a gentle inspirational message that's conveyed through the action, and an ending that will make you smile (and maybe tear up just a little).

And no, you didn't misread earlier: TEN. PAGES.

Sean Collins' Kraven story is killer, too. He opens on action, keeps up the pace, throws in laugh out loud dialogue, an identification character, and an ending that's funny because it rings so true. So you'll get two stories here, one cosmic and one grounded, but both very enjoyable and more profound than the wealth of writers out there trying to be oh-so-serious.

So do yourself a favor and buy Marvel Adventures: Spider-Man 19. If your resident professor or art critic asks, just tell him Watchmen was sold out.

Or better yet, pass some joy along and let them borrow your copy!